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Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

District Attorney, New York County

For Immediate Release
November 20, 2012


Former Secretary to Imelda Marcos Accused of Selling Monet “Water-Lily” Painting for Tens of Millions of Dollars, Failing to Report Sale on Tax Return

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance today announced the indictment of VILMA BAUTISTA, 74, CHAIYOT JANSEN NAVALAKSANA (“JANSEN”), 37, and PONGSAK NAVALAKSANA (“PONGSAK”), 40, for illegally conspiring to possess and sell valuable works of art acquired by former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos during her husband’s presidency, keeping the proceeds for themselves, and hiding those proceeds from New York State tax authorities and others. The art included a Claude Monet “Water-Lily” painting, which the defendants sold in September 2010 for $32 million. The indictment charges all three defendants with Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and also charges BAUTISTA with Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. JANSEN is charged with Criminal Tax Fraud in the Fourth Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree.[1]     

“The integrity of the international art market must be protected,” said District Attorney Vance. “These defendants are charged with trafficking in stolen art and committing significant tax fraud, denying the state millions of dollars in revenue. This indictment sheds light on what happened to major works of art missing for more than 25 years.”

According to the indictment, BAUTISTA was employed by the Philippine government as a Foreign Service Officer assigned to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York from the early 1970s through approximately 1986. During that period and for years after, BAUTISTA unofficially acted as the New York-based personal secretary of Imelda Marcos, whose husband, Ferdinand Marcos, now deceased, served as President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. During her husband’s presidency, Imelda Marcos used state assets to acquire a vast collection of artwork and other valuables. Much of the art adorned official Philippine government property in the Philippines and Manhattan. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines in February 1986 following a popular revolt.

In the period of time immediately before and after the fall of the Marcos regime, a significant amount of artwork and other valuables disappeared from Philippine government property, including from the Philippine Consulate townhouse in Manhattan. Since then, the Philippine government has engaged in a public campaign to recover missing and stolen property acquired by the Marcoses. BAUTISTA is accused of having been aware of and monitoring this campaign, even as she possessed some of the valuable works of art.  

In or after February 1986, according to the indictment, BAUTISTA came into possession of numerous works of art acquired by the Marcoses during Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, including the following paintings:

•    Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphease” (also known as “Japanese Footbridge Over the Water-Lily Pond at Giverny”), 1899, (the “Water-Lily”)

•    Claude Monet’s “L’Eglise et La Seine a Vetheuil” (also known as “L’Eglise a Vetheuil”), 1881, (the “Vetheuil”)

•    Alfred Sisley’s “Langland Bay,” 1887

•    Albert Marquet’s “Le Cypres de Djenan Sidi Said” (also known as “Algerian View”), 1946

Each of the four paintings disappeared in 1986 around the time the Marcoses fell from power, and each ended up in BAUTISTA’s possession. BAUTISTA is accused of secretly keeping the paintings for many years. Beginning in 2009, BAUTISTA, with the assistance of her two nephews, JANSEN and PONGSAK, attempted to sell the paintings covertly. The indictment details the defendants’ acknowledgement of the illegal nature of their conduct and the need to legitimize it: in email exchanges, they discussed the possibility that they might be “busted” trying to sell the paintings on the “black market,” and expressed their fear of being “arrested” and going to “jail.”

According to documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court, the defendants focused their efforts on the most valuable painting, Claude Monet’s “Water-Lily,” and used a variety of illicit means to achieve its sale, including the use of false documents to establish BAUTISTA’s purported legal authority to sell the painting and receive the proceeds. The defendants successfully sold the “Water-Lily” painting in September 2010 to a London gallery for $32 million. BAUTISTA is accused of distributing millions of dollars to JANSEN and PONGSAK, as well as other unindicted co-conspirators, while keeping the largest share of the money herself.

Several months later, in March and April 2011, BAUTISTA and JANSEN filed New York State tax returns for 2010 in which they failed to disclose the sale of the “Water-Lily” painting, or any income they received from the sale, thereby depriving New York State of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

The investigation is continuing.

Assistant District Attorneys Edward Starishevsky and Garrett Lynch, and former Assistant District Attorney Aaron Wolfson led the investigation under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy, Principal Deputy Bureau Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, Assistant District Attorney Polly Greenberg, Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, and Executive Assistant District Attorney Adam S. Kaufmann, Chief of the Investigation Division. Former Special Advisor John Dinin and Duncan Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, also worked on the investigation. Former Financial Intelligence Analyst Barbara Bruce and former Investigative Analyst Peter Shakro, along with Investigative Analysts David Coit and Marisa Calleja, assisted in the investigation, as did Investigators Gregory Dunlavey, Donato Siciliano, and Jonathan Reid of the District Attorney’s Investigations Bureau, under the supervision of Chief Investigator Walter Alexander and Deputy Chief Investigator Michael Wigdor.

District Attorney Vance thanked the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for its contribution to the investigation, and thanked the auction house and fine art storage firm Christie’s for its valuable assistance.

Defendant Information:

VILMA BAUTISTA, D.O.B. 8/29/1938
New York, N.Y.

•    Criminal Tax Fraud in the First Degree, a class B felony, 1 count
•    Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
•    Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count

Bangkok, Thailand

•    Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
•    Criminal Tax Fraud in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count
•    Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony, 1 count

Bangkok, Thailand

•    Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, a class E felony, 1 count

[1] The charges contained in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.